|Posted by Darryl Wolk on March 12, 2016 at 8:50 AM|
I was impressed when I learned that York Region was getting involved in lobbying. Mayors and Regional Councillors made a collective trip to Ottawa recently to make their budget requests to Justin Trudeau and the federal government in advance of the March 22 federal budget. York Region politicians also met with the provincial cabinet during the GTHA Mayor's summit and some attended a provincial budget briefing hosted by York Region MPPs. Some questioned the $3500 trip, but I believe these dollars were put to good use. It is important to have clear priorities and a working relationship with other levels of government. York Region is the fastest growing municipality in Ontario and it is important for our voice to be heard. Peel has been successful with their advocacy for a long time. York Region is wise to finally get into the game. Projects are often in competition for limited resources. The Yonge subway extension into York Region for example is competing with other transit projects in Toronto, Peel, Halton, Hamilton, Waterloo and Durham for funding. Ontario Hydro will only be sold once and it is crucial to get funding for York projects now before the funds are spent elsewhere in the GTHA. Some projects will be listed as priorities for the future, but without funding it is unclear if they will ever become a reality in the next 50 years.
Selecting the right priorities is important. In York Region, advocating for the wrong projects resulted in close to $300,000,000 for 3 bus stops and dedicated bus lanes on Davis Drive. This project caused gridlock for close to 7 years while construction missed several project deadlines. Businesses were forced to close and commuters were inconvenienced. Today the buses are empty and the fares are the most expensive in Canada. Construction is about to start on Yonge Street and the mistakes on Davis are likely to be repeated. These YRT/VIVA bus lanes in Newmarket happened because York Region and Newmarket Council advocated for the wrong local projects. During the last municipal election, I proposed scrapping the Yonge bus lanes and allocating the funding to GO Trains instead. I have put this forward to Metrolinx many times during their various community consultation sessions. My fear was that Newmarket's transit funds would be allocated to the wrong priority and that the province would distribute the remaining funds fairly to other communities. The worst case scenario would have been losing more frequent GO Trains in Newmarket because are money was blown on Davis Drive.
In the last budget, I was excited to learn that the province was indeed investing in more frequent GO Trains on several lines including the Barrie line. This announcement was positive. I believe more frequent GO Train and GO Bus service is the most important thing we can do to reduce gridlock, take cars off the roads and help the environment. Our long commutes are a quality of life issue and there is no doubt that investing in the correct transit solutions can allow people to spend more time with their families. Two way GO Trains every 15 minutes was great news, but Newmarket was shut out. Only Aurora will get this service South of Wellington.
In Newmarket, the Mayor and Regional Councillor were silent on GO Trains until the 2014 election campaign. They attempted to spin the benefits of Davis Drive and spent years advocating for empty buses and dedicated bus lanes in our town despite public disapproval. When funding was announced for more frequent GO Train service, the fine print revealed that the GO Trains would stop at Aurora. Smart politicians in Aurora have already seen the parking challenges this will bring to Aurora station. These challenges can be relieved by extending the service North. Newmarket was shut out of more frequent GO Train service because as predicted, our transit funding went to Davis Drive and Yonge Street bus lanes. The public should be outraged by this and demand we get the same service as Aurora. I find this completely unacceptable and would have never allowed it to happen on my watch. All of those joint meetings with Mayor Geoff Dawe, Mayor Tony Van Bynen and provincial cabinet Ministers paid dividends for Aurora but Newmarket got the shaft.
I want to see the right transportation priorities advocated for in Newmarket. We need to twin the tracks, upgrade Newmarket rail crossings, build a new station at Mulock and see the same frequency of GO Train service that Aurora will get. Trains are packed and we need this service now, not a few decades from now. More frequent GO Train service would cost less than bus lanes on Yonge Street and half of what it cost to rip up Davis Drive. It is positive that the 427 highway will be expanded North. I believe this expansion should eventually reach Highway 9 in the future. The Bradford by-pass is critical to Northern York Region and will improve gridlock in Newmarket. I would like to see a GO Bus connecting Newmarket GO Station with Pearson International Airport. I also support one system, one fare managed by Metrolinx when it comes to GTHA transit. It does not seem that Newmarket has a strong voice at the region, province or federal government with our current representatives. The Mayor rarely speaks at regional Council meetings and seems afraid to take a meeting with a provincial or federal politician unless the Mayor of Aurora is present. This has not served our community well. I am encouraged that York Region has finally entered the world of lobbying, but Newmarket needs a stronger voice. We seem to be the forgotten community in the GTA/905. I call on all elected officials representing Newmarket-Aurora to make Go Trains their top priority for Newmarket. Our town cannot afford to be left behind on this issue.
Thank you for reading,
Former Deputy Mayor Candidate